How to Select Your Prompt

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The No-Stress Way to Select Your Prompt and Choose Your Topic for Your Personal Statement

We are well into application season, and if you’re like the majority of students applying to universities, you fall into one of two groups. The first group I like the affectionately call “The Overachievers”. You know the type. They turn in their homework days or weeks before it’s due, they begin studying for their finals the first week of school when they receive their textbooks, they run with any opportunity to be extra prepared. These students submitted their applications months ago for early admissions, and we applaud their efforts. You go, Overachievers, you go.

However, if you’re reading this blog, it’s safe to say that you fall into the other category: “The Rest of Us”. You are the 99%, and though you know the magnitude of applying for college, you are also dedicate to and active in sports, drama, choir, your church, temple, or synagogue, student government, band, volunteering, etc, plus the normal rigors of senior-year classes… and every so often, you try to get a good night’s sleep. With all of these other commitments weighing on your shoulders, the stress of the college application process can seem overwhelming. I hear you, I’ve been there.

Not too long ago, I was a senior applying to universities, and I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t procrastinating on purpose… I just had so many other things going on. To top it off, when it came to writing my personal statement, I was completely lost. I couldn’t decide which prompt to pick, let alone what to even write about. I started nearly a dozen essays only to scrap them, stared for hours at a blank page, and nearly gave myself an anxiety attack trying to finish before the ever-looming deadline.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Years later, through helping my private students navigate the treacherous waters of the application process, I’ve found that there is a pain-free way to choose your prompt and topic. It just requires a little bit of time and focused brainstorming. Here’s my insider tool to take the pain out of starting your personal statement.


Set a timer for 30-45 minutes, put on some relaxing music, and grab a pencil or pen and a few sheets of paper. On the paper, free write answers to any/all of the following questions. Don’t think too hard about your answer, just go with your gut and write as little or as much as you feel you feel motivated to answer the questions.

1) Name and describe the happiest moment of your life. What did this experience mean to you?

2) Name and describe the lowest point you’ve experienced so far. What did you learn from this experience?

3) Name and describe the one object you would take with you if your house were on fire. Why is this possession so significant to you?

4) Name and describe something/someone that you are grateful for. What does it/does he or she mean to you?

5) Name and describe an experience that humbled you. What did you learn from this incident?

6) Name and describe one attribute/skill/talent that you wouldn’t trade for anything else. Why does it mean so much to you?

7) Name and describe something that angers or frustrates you. How do you handle those emotions, and is there a solution to what upsets you?

8) Name and describe something/somewhere/someone that gives you a feeling of peace. Why does this make you so content?

9) Name and describe your biggest weakness/challenge. Have you overcome this? If so, how? If not, what steps are you taking to overcome it?

10) Name and describe a time when you were out of your comfort zone. How did the event pan out and did. this experience teach you?

While this may seem backwards, by starting from your own experience, you’ve just brainstormed some solid ideas for your personal statement!

With your brainstorming answers in mind, go back to the application prompts. Do any of your brainstorming answers seem to correlate with the questions offered? More likely than not, you might have multiple responses for a few prompts. Was there a question in the brainstorm that felt easy or natural to answer? Maybe you wrote way more about one question than another. Look back at the brainstorm answers that you really enjoyed writing, and identify which application prompts they could also possibly answer.

Your instincts have guided you towards a prompt and/or prompts for which you have a solid answer. You’re welcome.

If you’d like more help with writing a powerful personal statement, please visit to learn more about our simple, easy-to-use online course.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Elizabeth, Co-Founder of CES